Bellingen Shire mayor Dominic King.
Bellingen Shire mayor Dominic King. .

Bid for greater regulation squashed

THE bid for greater regulation of the blueberry industry in the Bellingen Shire has been squashed.

The state's Independent Planning Commission this week ruled against Bellingen Shire Council's proposal which would have seen all new farms require a development application.

The commission found that the links between blueberry cultivation and potential impacts to water quality had not been clearly established; and that while council's proposed amendments were not necessarily inconsistent with NSW planning policies, council had failed to demonstrate the regulation of blueberry farming, in isolation of other horticultural production, was justified and appropriate.

In September last year Bellingen Shire Council voted in support of a planning proposal specifying that development consent is required to establish a blueberry farm in particular areas. The Department of Planning and Environment rejected the proposal and in response council lodged an appeal with the Independent Planning Commission.

Chair of the Commission, Professor Mary O'Kane, appointed a three-member panel - Dr Peter Williams (Panel Chair), Professor Snow Barlow and Professor Chris Fell - to scrutinise the department's decision.

With the blueberry industry expanding rapidly across the region in recent years Bellingen mayor Dominic King has expressed concerns about the impact on the environment and the need for individual communities to have their own discussions about the issue.

He says other tiers of government are reluctant and not sufficiently resourced to enforce the legislation that governs blueberry farms and has pointed to the results of a Southern Cross University (CSU) study that found elevated levels of nutrients in Hearnes Lake and Bucca Creek as clear proof that regulations are not being enforced.

Coffs Harbour Councillor Dr Sally Townley has also highlighted this study as proof that: "there is a huge gap between regulation and practice.”

"It is clearly an offence under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 to discharge pollution into a waterway without a licence. So yes, a regulation exists and clearly it is being breached, but nutrients suspended in water are invisible to the naked eye, so for council and/or the EPA to prove a breach in a given point in time, and then prosecute, is almost impossible.” she wrote in a letter to the editor.